The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: †Philip Davies, Dr Rupa Huq
† Baldwin, Harriett (West Worcestershire) (Con)
† Cates, Miriam (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)
† Creasy, Stella (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
† Davies, Gareth (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)
† Eagle, Ms Angela (Wallasey) (Lab)
Flynn, Stephen (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
† Glen, John (Economic Secretary to the Treasury)
† Jones, Andrew (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
† McFadden, Mr Pat (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab)
† Marson, Julie (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)
† Millar, Robin (Aberconwy) (Con)
† Oppong-Asare, Abena (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
† Richardson, Angela (Guildford) (Con)
† Rutley, David (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)
† Smith, Jeff (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
† Thewliss, Alison (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
† Williams, Craig (Montgomeryshire) (Con)
Kevin Maddison, Nicholas Taylor, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Victoria Saporta, Director of Prudential Policy, Prudential Regulation Authority
Sheldon Mills, Interim Executive Director of Strategy and Competition, Financial Conduct Authority
Edwin Schooling Latter, Head of Markets Policy, Financial Conduct Authority
Simon Hills, Director, Prudential Regulation, UK Finance
Daniel Chichocki, Director, LIBOR transition, UK Finance
Paul Richards, Managing Director, Head of Market Practice and Regulatory Policy, International Capital Markets Association
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 17 November 2020
[Philip Davies in the Chair]
Financial Services Bill
Before we begin, I have a few preliminary announcements: please switch electronic devices to silent. Tea and coffee are not allowed during sittings. Can I emphasise the importance of social distancing? Spaces available to Members are clearly marked. As you can see, not all Members can fit around the horseshoe. Will Members sitting at the side of the Room or in the Public Gallery please use the standing microphone if they wish to ask a question?
Today we will first consider the programme motion on the amendment paper. We will then consider a motion to enable the reporting of written evidence for publication, and then a motion to allow us to deliberate in private on our questions before the oral session begins. In view of the time available, I hope we can take these matters without debate. I call the Minister to move the programme motion standing in his name, which was discussed yesterday by the Programming Sub-Committee for this Bill.
(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 9.25 am on Tuesday 17 November) meet—
(a) at 2.00 pm on Tuesday 17 November;
(b) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 19 November;
(c) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 24 November;
(d) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 26 November;
(e) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 1 December;
(f) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 3 December;
(2) the Committee shall hear oral evidence in accordance with the following table:
Date Time Witness Tuesday 17 November Until no later than 10.25 am Prudential Regulation Authority; Financial Conduct Authority Tuesday 17 November Until no later than 10.55 am UK Finance Tuesday 17 November Until no later than 11.25 am International Capital Market Association Tuesday 17 November Until no later than 2.45 pm The Investment Association Tuesday 17 November Until no later than 3.30 pm TheCityUK; City of London Corporation Tuesday 17 November Until no later than 4.00 pm The Association for Financial Markets in Europe Tuesday 17 November Until no later than 4.30 pm The British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association Tuesday 17 November Until no later than 5.00 pm StepChange Debt Charity Thursday 19 November Until no later than 12.15 pm Spotlight on Corruption Thursday 19 November Until no later than 2.45 pm The Association of British Insurers Thursday 19 November Until no later than 3.30 pm Transparency International Thursday 19 November Until no later than 4.15 pm The Finance Innovation Lab; Positive Money Thursday 19 November Until no later than 5.00 pm Hon Albert Isola MP, Minister for Digital, Financial Services and Public Utilities, Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar
Tuesday 17 November
Until no later than 10.25 am
Prudential Regulation Authority; Financial Conduct Authority
Tuesday 17 November
Until no later than 10.55 am
Tuesday 17 November
Until no later than 11.25 am
International Capital Market Association
Tuesday 17 November
Until no later than 2.45 pm
The Investment Association
Tuesday 17 November
Until no later than 3.30 pm
TheCityUK; City of London Corporation
Tuesday 17 November
Until no later than 4.00 pm
The Association for Financial Markets in Europe
Tuesday 17 November
Until no later than 4.30 pm
The British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association
Tuesday 17 November
Until no later than 5.00 pm
StepChange Debt Charity
Thursday 19 November
Until no later than 12.15 pm
Spotlight on Corruption
Thursday 19 November
Until no later than 2.45 pm
The Association of British Insurers
Thursday 19 November
Until no later than 3.30 pm
Thursday 19 November
Until no later than 4.15 pm
The Finance Innovation Lab; Positive Money
Thursday 19 November
Until no later than 5.00 pm
Hon Albert Isola MP, Minister for Digital, Financial Services and Public Utilities, Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar
(3) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clause 1; Schedule 1; Clause 2; Schedule 2; Clauses 3 to 5; Schedule 3; Clauses 6 and 7; Schedule 4; Clauses 8 to 21; Schedule 5; Clause 22; Schedules 6 to 8; Clauses 23 and 24; Schedule 9; Clauses 25 to 27; Schedule 10; Clause 28; Schedule 11; Clauses 29 to 44; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;
(4) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Thursday 3 December.—(John Glen.)
That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(John Glen.)
Copies of written evidence that the Committee receives will be made available in the Committee Room. I call the Minister to move the motion about deliberating in private.
That, at this and any subsequent meeting at which oral evidence is to be heard, the Committee shall sit in private until the witnesses are admitted.—(John Glen.)
We will now go into private session to discuss lines of questioning.
The Committee deliberated in private.
Examination of Witnesses
Victoria Saporta, Sheldon Mills and Edwin Schooling Latter gave evidence.
Victoria Saporta: Good morning everyone, and good morning, Chair. I am Vicky Saporta, executive director for prudential policy in the PRA within the Bank of England.
Sheldon Mills: Good morning. I am Sheldon Mills, interim executive director of strategy and competition at the Financial Conduct Authority.
Edwin Schooling Latter: Good morning all. I am Edwin Schooling Latter, director of markets and wholesale policy at the Financial Conduct Authority.
Victoria Saporta: Thank you for the question, Mr Glen. Yes, we worked closely together, as you would expect for a Bill that proposes to revoke elements of the acquis and give the regulators specific powers. Ultimately, of course, it is for the Government to introduce the Bill and for Parliament to take it forward. However, the working relationship was very close, and because of that we are content with the content of the Bill and the proposed measures.
Sheldon Mills: We have had close interaction with you and your officials throughout the drafting of this Bill, and also the preparations for a new UK financial regulatory system, as we move to exit from the EU. We think it is important that there is an agile and confident UK financial services regulatory system, which will support the UK financial services industry and, importantly, also protect consumers and ensure market stability. We feel that the Bill is a good first step in that direction, to enable us to play our role in those goals and objectives for the UK financial services industry.
Edwin Schooling Latter: Yes, of course. Committee members will be aware that LIBOR is a benchmark that has had a troubled past. It is also a benchmark that probably does not suit the needs of its users as well as some alternatives; but it is very deeply embedded in the financial system, so while we think it is the right thing to move towards the end of LIBOR and its replacement with better alternatives, we need to be able to do that in an orderly way. The provisions in front of you contain some important measures to enhance the FCA’s powers to manage an orderly wind-down—for example, to identify the point at which the benchmark is no longer sustainable and to take measures to ensure that its publication ceases in the least disruptive way possible for the many hundreds of thousands of contract holders who have mortgages or more complex financial instruments that reference the benchmark in some way.
Yes, absolutely. Fire away.
Victoria Saporta: Yes, I am happy to do so. The way the EU tends to function in terms of regulations—particularly banking regulations, which are part of the provisions of the Bill that relate to the PRA—tends to be quite unique relative to other non-EU regulators. Essentially the Commission proposes very technical regulations, which in banking are often agreed by technocrats in the Basel environment—in the Basel committee—and then these are debated in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, and become directly-applicable law. The reason for that way of doing it relates to the single market, so that every EU member state has exactly the same regulations. As I said, that is very unique. Every other member of the Basel committee, for example—all the G20 jurisdictions with the exception of Switzerland, which is another federal democracy—would have its regulators applying these technical rules that they have themselves negotiated internationally.
Pre the treaty of Lisbon and before the single market rulebook, this was the way that regulation was done in the UK through the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. Primary legislation set out the objectives, framework and constraints through which regulators would operate and the regulators would then go about implementing the rules for the purpose, so that they could achieve the objectives that Parliament would have set for them.
Traditionally, UK regulators have done that in the prudential sphere, which is my current sphere. To preserve safety and soundness and contribute to financial stability, the PRA currently has a secondary objective of facilitating competition, but with the remit that the Government give them and always with an eye to preserving responsible openness and dynamism.
Victoria Saporta: There is a considerable body of empirical research that suggests that regulatory independence is strongly correlated with stronger financial stability. Particularly in the banking system, there are lower losses under stress. One of the reasons for that is because regulators—at least in theory, but I happen to believe from my experience that that is the practice—potentially have longer horizons than Governments, and therefore regulatory independence tends to be more robust to such lobbying in the longer term, subject, of course, to accountability and objectives set by Parliament.
Sheldon Mills: It is a good question. The starting point is our statutory objectives. We set our priorities for the year and also over three years on the basis of our statutory objectives, which are consumer protection, competition and market integrity. We then work out whether, serving those objectives, certain types of activities will help protect consumers, and help us ensure market integrity or further competition.
If you take the example of net zero, it is quite clear, regardless of where Government’s ambitions are in relation to net zero, that the move towards net zero forms a part of the issues that we face globally in terms of climate change. Those are risks in the economy and therefore impact the firms that we regulate and in turn may impact the consumers that we seek to protect. In a sense, we have little choice but to consider and be cognisant of Government’s aims in relation to net zero, because if we are not thinking about those climate risks and challenges, which our firms face, we would not be doing our job and serving our statutory objectives.
Quite often, you find that the aims of Government are merely looking at some of the risks that are impacting markets, impacting the firms, and therefore it is right and proper that we have work in relation to those areas, and we do have work in relation to net zero and climate change.
Edwin Schooling Latter: In answering that question, I think that an important starting point is to recognise that the UK regulators, including the FCA, played a very large role in designing a lot of that EU regulatory framework. So the overall picture is definitely one where we support the nature of that framework and the provisions within it. There are a few areas where compromises to span 28 countries perhaps do not suit as well as they might the particular circumstances of UK markets. I think that there are some areas, for example in the MiFID regime, where we could look at an approach that was better calibrated to the UK’s capital market infrastructure, but areas where we would diverge are the exception rather than the rule.
Sheldon Mills: We have an obligation under FSMA such that all authorised firms will sit on our financial services register, and that allows a sense of public transparency as to who is authorised and what they are authorised to do. As the Committee may or may not know, we regulate tens of thousands of firms, upwards of 60,000 firms, so the register is quite large. The current rules allow firms that are authorised on the register to maintain their registration even though their activities are, in effect, dormant and they are not actually carrying out certain financial services. We need to give them rights to be heard in order to remove them from the register, and that takes time. Therefore, having a different regime, whereby we can give notice to firms that their removal might be pending unless they prove to us that they are active, is going to be a much more efficient and effective way of operating the register. This is important because harms are occasioned by the presence on the register of dorman firms. There is the activity of cloning, whereby firms use dormant names on the register to practise certain fraudulent and scam activity, which is a significant problem that we are seeking to tackle. We are committed, of course, to removing people from the register as swiftly as possible, but the provisions in the Bill will really help to accelerate that for us.
Sheldon Mills: It is not a resourcing issue as such. The process that one needs to go through in order to remove somebody from the register is time and resource-intensive and requires quite a lot of back and forth to execute, so this will be a more efficient process, which still respects the right of the person on the register to explain to us that they are using their licence or authorisation, but which will allow us to move forward a bit more quickly.
Sheldon Mills: We can always do with more resources—that is a common refrain of regulators. Naturally, we will have to reorder our priorities in order to ensure that we are able to take on the onshored rules, to provide them with the right level of attention and make the right decisions. They will fall into two categories. Some we will be able to accept quite quickly and onshore reasonably easily, but others will have areas where we will rightly need to work through how they sit within the specifics of the UK market in a post-Brexit world, and they may take a little more time. All of them will require some form of consultation with the public, so that will take some time. I feel, however, that we have the expertise, experience and knowledge that certainly help us to have the head start on onshoring.
Sheldon Mills: I do not think so. What Ms Delfas was referring to is the need for firms to ensure that they are making efforts to be ready for transition. We have worked with firms and the Prudential Regulation Authority to ensure that firms are ready for transition. When we describe a “cliff edge”, what one is describing is the need to ensure that we are prepared for what we know is coming. We are working closely with firms and putting the right sort of pressure on them to be ready for that point.
Sheldon Mills: As I said, we have a significant amount of expertise in the United Kingdom. The reason we have that expertise is that—I have to be careful how I put this—much of the financial services legislation that has come about in the EU, the UK has fully participated in, often leading on the legislation. If we take the investment firms prudential regime, which is in the Bill, our colleagues at the FCA were leaders in that space, setting the pace and direction in the EU. So I think we have the expertise and the experience.
When I think about resources, there are areas where we will need to consider hiring more people, in particular the area of prudential expertise—that is a specific area within the FCA where we will need to hire. We will need to consider our resourcing carefully, as more parts of the acquis are onshored, but currently, where we stand, we think we are capable of moving around our resources in order to meet the demands.
The impact that it could have is of course the speed at which we are able to turn to the different pieces of legislation. If the ask was to do everything on day one, there would be an impact on resources; if we have a sensible framework and approach, I think we can manage.
Are you sure that will not cause your resources to be stretched in a way that you had not anticipated? For example, if we have to approve new ways of doing things, onshore all these things and get new systems up and running, those who might wish to carry on can just shift to the internal market and carry on doing things, without having to wait for all the consultations that you and your colleagues will be doing to try to re-establish a UK-based regulatory system.
Sheldon Mills: The starting point is that the foundations of the system are clear to all financial services markets in the UK, so there will not be a gap that means organisations will not know the type of regulatory system that they expect when they are authorised a licence to operate in the UK. We will ensure that that is maintained and is clear throughout the transition and into the future.
On what I think you are referring to as the competitive regulatory system that we might enter into, I can assure you that we are engaged internationally through all international bodies. We play leadership roles in the ESB, the Financial Stability Board and all sorts of international bodies in financial services. Therefore, we are key actors in regulatory systems and the latest approaches to regulation across the world, and that will also support our being a sensible regulatory environment in which firms wish to operate. We are clearly engaged with negotiations and discussions with the European Securities and Markets Authority in relation to a range of regulatory activity, so I am confident that we will not have any significant gaps or issues that would cause issues for the UK financial services industry or for those who wish to come and play an active role in that industry.
Sheldon Mills: The Bill is a matter for Government to take through Parliament. The important thing for us, as regulators, is that the Bill provides us with sufficient flexibility to meet the needs that we face as we move through the transition and into the future. In a sense, the Bill is silent on whether we are divergent or equivalent. Equivalence is a policy matter for Government, as opposed to a matter for us. All we need is sufficient flexibility to ensure that we have an appropriate regulatory system, depending on how Government policy emerges in relation to equivalence.
Sheldon Mills: Neutral is too strong a word. My point of view is that we are interested in what I would call outcomes-based regulation. Equivalence can be done in one of two ways within the bounds of equivalence: it can be done line by line and letter by letter, or it can be done on the basis of seeking to meet equivalence objectives within an outcomes-based regulatory system. We are moving towards the position of the latter. Overall, equivalence is a matter for Government.
Sheldon Mills: I do not think so at all. To give an example, it may look like it would take an army of 50 or 60 people to do the work of the investment firms prudential regime, but in reality it takes around 10 people to do that work. These are significant specialists in the technical architecture of designing prudential regulation. We would not ordinarily use those people in our consumer protection work, and they have different skills and are involved in different activities. I do not think that we will be any less vociferous in protecting consumers. During the crisis, those who watched us saw that we were at the forefront of ensuring that we tried to provide relief to consumers during the pandemic. We will continue in that vein. As the FCA’s conduct regulator, I am committed to ensuring that the consumer is at the heart of everything we do.
Sheldon Mills: I will go first and then pass over to Vicky. It is useful to start with our current accountability, because the Bill and future regulatory frameworks being consulted on by the Government deal with that issue. We wish to be accountable. As an independent regulator, an important part of our process is for us to have public accountability. We serve the public and ultimately are scrutinised by Parliament. Our main form of scrutiny is that of the Treasury Select Committee, but we attend many other Committees. Explaining our activity to Parliament is an important part of our work. Below that, within the Financial Services and Markets Act for the FCA specifically, are our statutory panels. They are there to scrutinise our work in a much closer engagement with the organisation. Then we have the consumer panel, the practitioner panel and the small business practitioner panel, as well as the advisory panel on markets and listings. They are able to make public their views, and—believe me—they do very often make public their views on our activity. In addition to that, we will consult on our policies when we do policy-making work ourselves, as do other public authorities. We will also provide access to non-confidential information and data so that all interested parties can make their views known to us.
We also evaluate our work to ensure that it meets its intended outcomes. We already have an existing accountability framework that would sit well with the additional rule-making powers we may get through the Bill and as we move forward with the proposed reform to the financial services regulatory regime. The future regulatory framework is out for consultation, so I will not say much in relation to it, but we of course acknowledge that there may need to be adjustments to the accountability framework to accord with the additional powers that we are getting. We look forward to seeing the responses to the Government’s consultation in relation to that.
Sheldon Mills: As I said, we acknowledge that we will be getting additional powers and there may need to be changes to that accountability framework. Within the Bill, you see the foundational approaches in terms of how things may change. Within each of the specific policy areas, if we take the investment firms prudential regime review, there are certain “have regards” obligations that we will need to take account of in that regime. I think that is a sensible approach to take as you bring in onshored regulation. There are specific needs that Parliament considers it is appropriate for us to consider for that onshored regulation. Then, that “have regards” mechanism of pointing that out to us and us being accountable for meeting those “have regards” in accordance with our statutory objectives is a sensible approach and adds an additional layer of accountability and scrutiny for us.
There are other mechanisms within the future regulatory framework, which is out for consultation. Again, I do not have a strong view on them. I recognise that we are getting more rule-making powers and we may need to have more strengthening of the accountability framework.
Victoria Saporta: To response to your question directly, yes, from the very beginning we had discussions with Treasury colleagues about how, within the narrow confines of this Financial Services Bill—I can talk about the related but quite distinct issue of the future regulatory framework—we could be more accountable, given that the Bill effectively gives the Government powers to revoke particular narrow areas of what will become, on 1 January, primary legislation, and then asks the regulators to fill in those particular gaps. The Government were keen that the process should be part of an enhanced accountability framework.
As Sheldon has said, within the confines of this Bill, the enhanced accountability framework applies to the updating of the rulebook to take into account the new Basel III provisions and the investment firms regulation, and three new “have regards” regulatory principles, which are set out in the relevant schedule and refer to us having to take regard of relevant standards recommended by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision. That applies obviously to the PRA. We need to take the likely effect of the rules on the UK’s relative standing as a place for internationally active credit institutions and investment firms to carry on activities. Also, we need to take into account the likely effect of the rules on the ability of firms to continue to provide finance to households and businesses. This is an enhanced accountability framework, and the Bill also obliges us to publish how we have taken into account these “have regards”.
Those measures are within the proposals in the Bill to enhance our accountability publicly. There is the separate issue of the consultation that the Government are currently doing on how the future regulatory framework will look, what the enhanced accountability provisions within that are and how they should apply. I would not want to pre-empt that consultation but, clearly, the Government are interested and are trying to look at ways of keeping our feet to the fire, and that is absolutely appropriate.
Sheldon Mills: We have not undertaken a cost-benefit assessment of the Bill. That would be a matter for the Government. We have considered, as we discussed in response to earlier questions, the impact on resources within the FCA. Our current intention is to keep that within our current financial envelope, so we are not predicting at this stage an increase in fees or levies to take account of the Bill. That is all I can say at this stage.
In terms of the impact of the Bill and the onshored legislation, when we review the regulations on the investment firms prudential regime and so on, we will do a cost-benefit analysis of the rules and regulations that we are proposing at that stage. At this stage, we will not be doing that—that would be a matter for the Government, not for us.
In terms of the impact on consumers more generally, as I said, there are aspects of the Bill that are very consumer enhancing. I do not think they came up very much on Second Reading, but the provisions in relation to breathing space will be very helpful for consumers facing issues around statutory debts, which we are interested in as a financial regulator. The issues in relation to the register will be extremely helpful for us in terms of tackling fraud and scams. There are many elements of the Bill that are helpful. It is complicated, but the investment firms prudential regime is also consumer enhancing; currently, the capital requirements facing investment firms are those for the systemically important banks, and they are not fit for purpose. This regime will help us have a capital and prudential regime that is fit for investment firms. So there are a whole host of aspects of the Bill that are supportive of consumer interests and will not necessarily increase costs in a way that will be inimical to their interests.
Sheldon Mills: All these measures are Government proposals, so the cost-benefit analysis that is required will be carried out by the Government and not by us. Once the Bill has been passed, in whatever form—we are bringing forward rules and regulations—we will undertake a cost-benefit analysis. I am giving an indicative view, as opposed to one based on a cost-benefit analysis that we are not required to carry out at this stage.
Sheldon Mills: It is a broader question than the Bill, but I will answer by giving our approach to debt.
As a regulator, our approach is not to have a policy on whether people should be able to access credit, but we are concerned about the impact on people of firms providing credit. We want firms to be able to provide credit in a way that treats individuals fairly, takes account of their needs and circumstances and, in particular, supports vulnerable customers if they are in debt.
We work closely with debt charities. Some of the issues that we are seeing, which we all face and of which the FCA is cognisant, include the accumulation of debt among certain parts of the population, which is why it is important that rules and processes are in place to support people with debt management and why a breathing space policy forms an important part of that. I think that answers your question, but you might have more specific questions.
Sheldon Mills: I think it is for Government to decide whether we should have that “have regard” regime, but there are current rules that firms should take account of the needs of customers. If customers are clearly displaying signals that they are taking on debt that is not affordable—and, in that sense, is not sustainable—firms should have in place mechanisms to ensure that they do not provide further credit or loans to them. There are rules in place on unaffordable lending.
It is for Government to decide whether we have “have regards”, but I do not think that we necessarily need them. I agree that there are issues with debt throughout society that we need to tackle, but I believe we have the right rules in place to ensure that firms make appropriate lending decisions.
Sheldon Mills: You will have seen that we have done a significant amount of work in relation to high-cost credit and unaffordable lending. We have put caps in relation to forms of high-cost credit; we have tackled payday loan operators; we have a business priority that relates to consumer credit; we have introduced a review, which our former interim CEO, Chris Woolard, is undertaking in relation to aspects of unsecured consumer credit. We are extremely proactive in this area, and the overall system—in terms of the regulatory system—works well. The fact that consumers are able to go to the Financial Ombudsman Service, where they have had certain issues and the service is therefore enabled to give redress to those customers, is an important part of the system. However, I would not want you to think that that we are not proactively seeking to tackle the issues in this area.
Sheldon Mills: I will let my colleagues go first, then I will come in.
Edwin Schooling Latter: Let me raise one area where work is under way. FinTech was mentioned, but the area of crypto-assets has been popular in some quarters. That is an example of an area where we have taken a very proactive approach to putting limitations on where those can be marketed to retail investors who may not fully understand the difficulties of valuing those, the risks attached to them, or the possibilities that they would lose all of their money the more speculative end of that product range.
Sheldon Mills: I would agree with Edwin. The main area which we will see in relation not just to financial services, but to any product, is the continued development of digital means both of accessing and of providing products and services. Our approach to that is twofold: one approach is to encourage innovation. These products and services can bring efficiency and lower cost, and they can bring different levels of access for consumers, including vulnerable consumers. However, while doing that, we ensure we are clear on the ethics and consumer protection aspects of these new forms of products and services. Those are some of the areas where we will see future opportunities and challenges within the financial services system.
Sheldon Mills: With respect, I cannot regret not acting on something which I do not regulate. However, what we are doing is looking at that area through the form of this review. As you know, and as is implicit in your question, that does sit outside our specific regulation.
Victoria, I think you were about to say something.
Victoria Saporta: Sorry, I am conscious of the time. I have basically one comment to make in our particular area. I agree very much with Sheldon on digitalisation and with Edwin on crypto. Another particular area that we are looking at—
Order. I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time allocated for this session. I thank our witnesses on behalf of the Committee for their evidence.
Examination of Witnesses
Simon Hills and Daniel Cichocki gave evidence.
We will now hear from Simon Hills and Daniel Cichocki from UK Finance, who are joining the sitting remotely. Can you introduce yourselves for the record?
Daniel Cichocki: Good morning, Chair. I am Daniel Cichocki. I am the London inter-bank offered rate transition director at UK Finance and, as such, am focused on the benchmark elements of the Bill.
Simon Hills: Good morning. I am Simon Hills. I lead the prudential policy work at UK Finance, so my particular area of expertise is the prudential regulation of banks.
I remind colleagues that we have until 10.55 am for this session, so it is much shorter than the previous one. I hope that colleagues will be mindful of that.
Simon Hills: It is important to recognise that the Prudential Regulation Authority has been a strong supporter of Basel 3.1. It has been very influential in the way it was finalised, and I think that it is committed to implementing the Basel 3.1 framework in an internationally aligned way. That is important for our members, particularly if they are internationally active, because they want a coherent and harmonised regime across the world. If you are a UK bank operating in the UK, North America, Europe and Asia, you want one version of Basel 3.1 and you want it to be implemented in a coherent way. If not, and if there are different approaches to regulatory reporting, to how credit risk is assessed and to liquidity requirements, you have to implement a number of different versions of Basel 3.1, which will be more difficult.
In terms of UK Finance’s competence in, if you like, holding the PRA to account, we have a wide range of members for whom Basel 3.1 implementation is very important. I am pleased to say that I have good working relationships with Vicky and her colleagues at the PRA.
Daniel Cichocki: Certainly, the issues with the lack of sustainability of the LIBOR benchmark are very well documented, and it is important, as the Financial Stability Board has acknowledged at an international level, that we move away from LIBOR on a smooth and timely basis. It is also very important, certainly from an industry perspective, that as a result of moving away from LIBOR on to more robust reference rates, customers who have contracts referencing LIBOR are not inadvertently affected by that transition.
What this Bill seeks to do—and we are very supportive of its provisions—is to make sure there is a safety net in the form of powers being granted to the FCA, to ensure that those contracts that cannot be migrated on an active basis before LIBOR ceases have a solution so that the customer has a clear outcome for the contracts beyond LIBOR cessation.
These powers are important because before 2017, and the acknowledgement that LIBOR would cease, many contracts did not have clear, robust terminology setting out what would happen if LIBOR ceased. They may include terminology addressing if LIBOR should be unavailable for a day or two, and that might be the reference point those contracts would take. In that instance, without these powers, we may have seen customers falling back on to the last available LIBOR rate to the point of cessation, essentially becoming a fixed-term contract. We may have seen customers falling back on to cost of funds, which would create very diverse and disadvantageous outcomes for them. Equally, we would have seen fairly significant levels of contractual disputes beyond the end of 2021. These powers, in preventing all those negative outcomes for both customers and market integrity, are absolutely critical as part of the transition.
Simon Hills: I am not sure that we would want the UK Government and authorities to diverge significantly, if at all, from other standards. We are not sure yet what Europe will do in respect of Basel 3.1. We do not expect draft legislation from the Commission until around Easter next year. That said, from the way in which the Commission has implemented previous iterations of Basel, I would expect it to stick quite closely to that Basel 3.1 framework, for the same reasons I have mentioned: international coherence and harmonisation, and easing the comparison of different banks and jurisdictions.
Simon Hill: Yes, I think there is likely to be work to be done there. Of course, one of the accountabilities the Financial Services Bill gives the PRA is to take financial services equivalence and international competitiveness into account, and, importantly, the banks’ ability to continue to provide finance to UK businesses and consumers on a sustainable basis. I think we will all want to understand how different regulators around the world—not just in Europe—look at the PRA’s implementation when it gets down to those technical standards, which is why it is important for both Parliament and UK Finance to make sure there is no inappropriate deviation from international standards. I can assure you that if UK Finance members see that there is, we will speak up about it.
Daniel Cichocki: It is absolutely right to acknowledge the issues with conduct around LIBOR in the past and the reforms that have taken place to make sure that those things are prevented. That includes the FCA oversight of the LIBOR benchmark, the introduction of the benchmark regulations at a European Union level, and transcribed into UK law, and broader reforms since the financial crisis, including the senior managers regime to ensure that the issues with LIBOR are not repeated. As the Committee will be aware, the fundamental reason why it is important to move away from LIBOR is that the underlying markets on which the rate is based have largely dried up. Therefore it is right to move us on to robust reference rates based on markets that are highly liquid and not reliant on expert judgment.
Simon Hills: It is important to remember that individuals in banks who are responsible for benchmark submission and administration are classified as so-called certified persons under the senior manager certification regime and they have to be certified as fit and proper every year by their firm. If they are not certified as fit and proper, they will lose their job and will find it very difficult to find a role in financial services again.
Daniel Cichocki: LIBOR as it is formed today includes both elements of actual transactions and expert judgments of firms. These expert judgments, as a result of the issues in the past, are subject to those very high levels of governance control that I have talked about being introduced as a result of the benchmark regulation—absolutely appropriate as a result of the issues with LIBOR in the past. The underlying reason why we need to move away from it is that we want to be internationally on rates that do not require that expert judgment.
Simon Hills: Shall I go first and talk about the prudential regulation of banks? The Financial Services Bill achieves what it sets out to do: to implement a coherent version of Basel 3.1 in the UK. It is quite important to our members that we do Basel 3.1 the same in all the major financial centres in which firms operate. If a firm that is regulated by the UK operates in a different host country and the host country says, “That UK firm operating on our patch is supervised by the PRA and the PRA has introduced a watered-down version of Basel 3.1”, then they would add extra supervisory levels to bring it back up to the Basel 3.1 standard. That leads to a bifurcated approach with different regulatory standards in different countries, which makes life very difficult. A coherent approach, which is what the Bill seeks to achieve, is what we and our members want.
Simon Hills: We would not want to see wholesale deviation from Basel 3.1. Of course, Europe itself may choose to deviate from Basel 3.1, and that is a matter for its legislative process. I would not want to see the UK deviate from the agreed framework for Basel 3.1.
Simon Hills: I think there is a difference of approach in some G7 countries. Some perhaps apply a graduated or targeted approach to regulation. Canada, Japan and the US apply different iterations of the Basel standards to different sorts of firm. A large, internationally active bank would face the full gamut of Basel 3.1 in all its glorious granularity—in my view, that is right and proper—but a smaller, less systemic bank might face a different approach.
Of course, Basel 3.1 is applied by Europe—and that is what we are bound by at the moment—to all banks, not just those internationally active banks that are the target of Basel 3.1. The EU took the decision back, I think, in 1992—before even I got involved in this space—to apply the Basel III framework to all banks, from the smallest local Sparkasse in Germany to the largest, internationally-active bank.
I feel we must ask ourselves whether that is right; should there not be a risk-adjusted approach to safety and soundness? A sub-regional building society operating in the UK, for instance, has a vanishingly small probability of bringing the whole financial services system crashing down if it fails. Is it right to ask that firm to comply with all aspects of Basel 3.1? Maybe not.
Simon Hills: We don’t know yet how Europe will determine equivalence. I hope that our colleagues in the EU will look at our implementation of Basel 3.1, compare it with their own implementation and ask themselves the question, “Does this achieve what Basel 3.1 is seeking to achieve?” If they do, I hope there will be a form of equivalence—however we term it in the future—determination.
Do any other Members have any questions?
Daniel Cichocki: As the Committee can imagine, from an industry perspective, we are absolutely focused on ensuring that the transition away from LIBOR—which is the right thing to do—is done in a way that treats customers fairly and consistently.
There is an awful lot of work being done at both an international and domestic level to agree standardised approaches to transition, where possible, but also to ensure that there are clear expectations from our regulators—here in the UK, it is the Financial Conduct Authority—about how that transition should be done.
Lots of work has been done and lots of work remains to be done, and, as you can imagine, we are speaking very frequently to the regulators here in the UK, and also working through the national working group to ensure that customers are transitioned on a fair and transparent basis.
Daniel Cichocki: We are one voice from the perspective of the banking and finance industries, but it is important also to recognise that, within the overall national working group in the UK, there are voices that, rightly and properly, represent the end users of LIBOR, be they corporates themselves or the representatives of corporates. Although those voices are important in our national transition working group, it is equally important to address the concern that you articulate, which is absolutely right: the guidance that the FCA has provided to all firms that are transitioning their customers that the process should not be used to move customers on to inferior terms or rates that would be expected to be higher than LIBOR would have been. After speaking to our members in the industry, that message from the UK conduct authority has been heard loudly and clearly. All of us who are focused on moving away from LIBOR are acutely aware of the history of the benchmark and committed to ensuring that we move away from it in the right way and in a manner that treats customers fairly.
Mr Hills, the industry has been lobbying the Government, Parliament and regulators to design regulations that will make UK firms more internationally competitive. Indeed, all of us in the room would share the aim of protecting our financial services industry. Do you think that the Bill achieves that?
Simon Hills: Yes, I think it does. The important thing is that the Bill achieves that by setting expectations of how the Basel 3.1 framework is implemented in an internationally coherent way. The PRA has to think about not only international competitiveness, but financial services equivalence, and the Bill achieves that.
Simon Hills: I do not think that it is in the interests of the UK financial services industry and banks to introduce a divergent regime. We are talking about the importance of the City, and we want people to bring their money to the City for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. UK Finance members are certain that it is in no one’s interest to diverge from internationally agreed frameworks because that creates the risk that we bring in the wrong sort of people.
If there are no further questions, I thank the witnesses for their evidence.
Examination of Witness
Paul Richards gave evidence.
Paul Richards: I am Paul Richards. I am a managing director at ICMA, which is the international bond market association. I am here to give evidence on the transition from LIBOR. I am involved in the transition from LIBOR to SONIA—the sterling overnight index average—because I chair the bond market sub-group, which consists of issuers, banks, investors and four major law firms. We work closely with the FCA and the Bank of England. If you will permit me, I shall make a short introductory statement.
I hope to be able to give you a bond market perspective on the Bill but, for the market as a whole, we are all trying to move away from LIBOR to risk-free rates while minimising the risk of market disruption and litigation. The Bill is welcome and very important for the bond market because it will give the FCA extra powers to deal with tough legacy LIBOR contracts and wind them down in an orderly manner.
There are three main points on which it would be very helpful if the Committee was willing to strengthen the Bill. First, the Bill needs to provide continuity of contract between the current definition of LIBOR and the new definition of LIBOR for legacy transactions once LIBOR is prohibited for new transactions. Legacy contracts referencing LIBOR under the current method of defining LIBOR need to be read as references to LIBOR under the new definition as determined by the FCA, so that there will be continuity there—this is sometimes called a deeming provision. This will reinforce the message that LIBOR will continue to appear on the same screen page, and it should also help to remove uncertainty and minimise the risk of a legal challenge on the basis that the current definition of LIBOR and the new definition are not the same and one party or another is worse off.
This is particularly a risk in the bond market in cases where LIBOR is specifically defined in legacy bond contracts in terms of its current definition. Continuity of contract or deeming provision like this was used when the euro was launched in 1999, and it worked well. Clearly, it would need to be drafted with the help of the Treasury and it would probably need to be drafted in terms of an article 23A benchmark in the way that the Bill is looked at. That is the first point.
The second and related point on which I hope the Committee will help is that the provision of the continuity of contract under the Bill needs to be accompanied by a safe harbour against the risk of litigation. This would provide that the parties to contracts would not be able to sue each other as a result of the change in the definition of LIBOR, and it would allow them to make conforming changes to bond market documentation.
The third point on which I hope the Committee will help is that the safe harbour and contract continuity provisions in the Bill need to be drawn as widely as possible, to protect any entity that uses the new definition of LIBOR for legacy transactions in place of the current definition of LIBOR. This would need to cover not just supervised entities in the Bill, but non-supervised entities, as the range of institutions involved in the international bond market is very wide.
Finally, I would like to draw your attention to two other points where there are significant legal risks under the Bill. One is that there needs to be equal treatment between legacy LIBOR bonds when the new definition of LIBOR takes over from the current definition, so that some legacy bonds are not preferred to others and there is no discrimination between them; otherwise, legal problems may arise. This would be a matter for the FCA under the Bill.
The other point is that there needs to be alignment internationally between the Bill and the similar legislation that is being introduced in the US and the EU, so that the rate used for legacy dollar bonds under English law and legacy dollar bonds under New York law is the same. Thank you, Mr Davies. I would be very happy to do my best to answer your questions.
Paul Richards: Thank you, Minister. First, as I mentioned, we welcome the Bill. The only question is: can it be improved to minimise disruption and litigation? The essential point is that, in the bond market, we have moved to SONIA as the risk-free rate, and new issues have been in SONIA for over two years now. That is the first step in the process.
The second step in the process is that we actively convert as many bonds as we can from legacy LIBOR to SONIA. We are making some progress there, but the third point is that we will still have tough legacy contracts that cannot be converted, either because they are too difficult to convert or because there are too many to convert by the end of 2021. In those circumstances, the provisions in the Bill are extremely helpful, because they provide for an orderly wind-down of tough legacy contracts. From that perspective, the Bill is very helpful. My questions relate to when the current definition of LIBOR is replaced by a new definition. Will there be contract continuity and a safe harbour to minimise the risk of disruption in the market and litigation?
Paul Richards: LIBOR was set by a panel of banks. As the market no longer uses the underlying information that it used to use for banks, it has now changed, or will change, with the admission of SONIA, to a different definition. SONIA is essentially an overnight rate. It is a robust rate, because it is used widely in the market, whereas LIBOR is no longer used in the market as it was 30 or 40 years ago. That is one difference. A second difference is that LIBOR is a term rate—it is expressed over one month, three months or six months—whereas the liquidity in the SONIA rate is focused on the overnight market, which is therefore a much more representative selection and does not require expert judgment, unlike LIBOR.
A third point, perhaps, is that it is not just a UK proposal to replace LIBOR with risk-free rates in SONIA. A similar change is taking place globally. In the US, USD LIBOR is being replaced by the secured overnight financing rate, which has a similar sort of construction, and the situation is similar around the world. Those are the main reasons for the change.
Paul Richards: As you say, LIBOR depended on expert judgment in many cases, because the market was no longer using LIBOR in the way it had been constructed. With SONIA, it is a much more liquid market and there is no need for expert judgment at all. That is one of the reasons why it is being preferred as the replacement for sterling LIBOR, and similarly around the world in other currencies.
Paul Richards: A significant difference between LIBOR and SONIA is what is called the credit adjustment spread, which takes account of the difference between LIBOR and SONIA. In the consumer market, the proposals are, at a general level, to treat customers fairly. In the wholesale market, the aim is to have continuity of contracts between the old definition of LIBOR and the new definition that will be used for legacy transactions. This will be determined under the Bill by the FCA. It is not specified how it will determine it. There are market assumptions about that, but it is not decided yet how they will determine it. It is thought that it will consult the market before making a decision, but the end result will be that the rate that arises under the new definition of LIBOR will take over from the old definition of LIBOR, and there will be continuity of contracts between them. If that is emphasised in the Bill, that will give legal protection for all those involved, which is one of the main reasons for providing it. It needs to be accompanied by a safe harbour provision, which would protect all the different market participants involved. I would like to be able to tell you that this will eliminate the risk of litigation, but I cannot tell you that. What I can tell you is that it will minimise the risk of disruption and litigation that might otherwise occur because of the huge volume and value of transactions.
Paul Richards: They are both needed, I think. The FCA’s judgment about treating customers fairly relates primarily to consumers. The protection that a safe harbour would provide, so that parties would not sue each other as a result of the change from the old definition to the new definition, is essentially designed for the international markets. So they are both needed. The FCA is already making statements about treating customers fairly, but the Bill should include both the continuity of contracts provision and a safe harbour protection to accompany that. The broader the safe harbour protection is drafted in the Bill—the Treasury, I am sure, could help on this—the better and more effective it will be in minimising disruption and the risk of litigation.
Paul Richards: These are points that law firms that work in the City are acutely aware of from their previous experience. The law firms have been looking at what needs to be done to ensure that there is continuity of contract and a safe harbour protection. Of course, I hope that the Treasury will take account of that, as your Committee will take account of it before reaching a final conclusion. We should do everything we can to minimise the risk of market disruption and litigation, within the context of the overriding point, which is that we do need to move away from LIBOR to risk-free rates. That is, of course, what we have done, with new issues in the bond markets and with the conversion of legacy contracts from LIBOR to SONIA. We have a tough legacy problem for the future, which needs to be dealt with. The Bill helps to deal with that.
Paul Richards: Sorry, I did not quite catch the last point.
You mentioned the uncertainty of how the FCA makes decisions around LIBOR contracts and benchmarking. Do you feel that needs to be set out more explicitly in the Bill so that you can know what to anticipate?
Paul Richards: I think it would be helpful for the Bill, specifically, to make provision for continuity of contracts—the deeming provision—and also for protection against litigation through a safe harbour, to be drafted as broadly as possible. That is not because the move away from LIBOR is not something that we should do—on the contrary, it is something we must do and we have made great progress in doing it already—but because, to deal with the tough legacy contracts in the Bill, we have to make sure that the new definition and the old definition are treated in the market as the same.
Paul Richards: I think that we are talking about 23A benchmarks in general in the Bill. What I have been talking about is specifically relevant to LIBOR. When the Treasury looks, as I hope it will, at whether anything is needed to advise you to strengthen the Bill, it might need to draft that in terms of benchmarks in general and not just LIBOR in particular.
Paul Richards: In the bond markets, we have to convert legacy contracts bond by bond, so it is the number of the bonds that is important, not just their value. In the sterling bond market, we think we have about 520 different legacy bond contracts, or 780 if you include the different tranches of securitisations. We have converted just over 20 of those so far in the market, but we know that we will not be able to convert all of them because some are too difficult to convert and there are too many to convert.
The FCA has an international role and English law applies in dollars as well as in sterling, so we need to take account of dollar legacy bond contracts under English law. In terms of number, we understand that there are more than 3,000 of those. In terms of value in bonds, we think we have around 110 billion in sterling outstanding.
The critical point for us in the bond market is that we need to convert them bond by bond. You will notice that that is different from the derivatives market, where there is a multilateral protocol that enables the market to do everything at once, which is currently in course. We cannot do that in the bond market.
Paul Richards: In the US, the alternative reference rates committee, which is the group equivalent to the sterling risk-free reference rates working group, has proposed legislation that is not identical to the UK’s but has the same effect, and so the concepts of continuity of contract and protection through safe harbours in the UK context will be recognised, we think, internationally as well.
Of course, we are not dealing here just with the proposals under New York law. We are having to look more generally. The EU has a proposal for legislation as well. It is important to recognise that the FCA has an international role, because the FCA is the regulator of the administrator of LIBOR, so what the FCA, through this Committee, decides in the UK will have an international impact.
Paul Richards: No, I hope that the Government will consider this and say yes. I hope that that will happen, but it needs to be looked at in the context of the Bill as a great help to the market. It needs to be looked at in this context: can anything be done to strengthen the wholesale market?
Paul Richards: The FCA has great powers under the Bill and I am sure that it will exercise them wisely, but we are dealing here with law internationally, and anything that can be done to strengthen that—and the Bill has the capacity to do that—will be helpful. I hope that it will also be helpful to the FCA.
If there are no further questions from Members, I thank the witness for his evidence. That brings us to the end of our morning sitting. The Committee will meet again at 2 pm in the same room to take further evidence.
Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(David Rutley.)
Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.